As the weather changes, so does the landscape of college basketball. Those teams lucky enough to grab automatic bids and receive at-large invitations to the NCAA Tournament and NIT keep hope alive for a national championship. The others start planning ahead for next year.
Once the conference tournaments end, the madness begins. When the brackets are announced, it's all a matter of survival.
The good thing about the Big Dance is the fact that records don't matter when it comes down to it. A successful season only guarantees any given team a lower seed. In the field of 64, hope lingers each time a team steps on the court. That's why Kentucky shouldn't be counted out when it comes to playing in the Big Dance. Heck, even teams who weren't supposed to have a say in the conference tournament end up with a coveted ticket in the form of an automatic berth to the big show.
Eastern Kentucky University is a prime example of one of those programs who weren't considered as one of the teams expected to be listed on the official NCAA bracket. The Colonels won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament last weekend for their second NCAA berth in three years. Anything can happen.
Just 15 years ago, a Kentucky team fresh off probation nearly defied all odds before top-seeded Duke defeated the Wildcats in perhaps the greatest basketball game ever played in the tournament on March 28, 1992 in Philadelphia. A turnaround miracle by Christian Laettner resulted in a 104-103 victory in overtime, sending the Blue Devils to the Final Four.
Four years later, Kentucky won the national title which jumpstarted an impressive three-year run that ended with another national title two years later in Tubby Smith's first season at the helm.
While UK was expected to be a major player in 1996, the "Comeback Cats" were a mild surprise in 1998 after finishing as runner-up in the tournament the previous season in Rick Pitino's last tour of duty as coach at Kentucky.
Other teams have shared in the glorious story down through the years. Several memorable ones come to mind.
The sight of the late Jim Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug after N.C. State stunned Houston to win the 1983 championship is still one of the greatest moments in tournament history.
Who can forget Villanova's upset win over Georgetown in the 1985 championship encounter at Rupp Arena?
What about Michigan's successful run in 1989 after coach Bill Frieder resigned? Interim coach Steve Fisher righted the ship in enough time to earn himself a permanent job at the school and a national championship ring.
A year ago, mid-major participant George Mason was a part of the Final Four, bringing recognition to those schools not part of the big-names in the collegiate ranks.
Several questions linger heading toward Selection Sunday. Who will be the next George Mason? Who will be the top seeds? Where will Kentucky end up?
That's what makes March so special. Enjoy the show.